If there’s any time of year when consumerism goes into overdrive, it’s Christmas.
When the very first Christmas card was printed in December 1843 at the request of Sir Henry Cole, an Englishman living during the reign of Queen Victoria, who would have ever imagined that 165 years later an estimated 5 billion Christmas cards would be sent each year worldwide?
It’s not only greeting card sales that have increased exponentially. The billions spent on Christmas shopping makes it the top profit-making period in the year for many retailers. In fact, “Christmas” seems to start earlier each year, reflecting the ever-increasing drive for profits. In some countries it’s now not uncommon to find Christmas items on sale in September.
There is no shortage of ideas for presents for our children, parents, sweethearts, spouses, friends, colleagues … and ourselves, of course. We are barraged by advertisements. Corporations carefully time the release of their newest gadgets, limiting supply to ensure high demand.
Some people argue that consumerism, which is prevalent throughout the year but reaches its zenith at Christmas, is necessary for the economy. If we didn’t keep buying so much, factories would close and jobs would be lost. Others argue that it’s only reasonable to take advantage of the wide array of items that have been designed to improve our standard of living.
On the other hand, while consumerism may be a fixture of modern life, it shouldn’t rule our desires and attitudes or overly influence the way we spend our time and money—or holidays. “Things” shouldn’t become so important that they distract or take away from the things that give true meaning to life.
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” 1 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the [person] who does the will of God lives forever.” 2 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up treasures in Heaven.” 3 “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [the necessities of life] shall be added to you.” 4
To many of us, what we buy, where we shop, how often we shop, how much we have to spend, and how our buying affects others’ perception of us means a great deal—in many cases probably too much.
According to British psychologist Oliver James, “We have become addicted to having rather than being and confusing our needs with our wants. Studies show that if you place high value on those things, you are more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, addictions, and personality disorders. We cannot carry on consuming in this manner and feel confident our great-grandchildren have any future.”5
The issue is not whether we have one car or three, or whether or not we own the latest 3G mobile phone, laptop computer, or iPod. Nor is it whether we shop at a designer store or hunt for used bargains on eBay. What matters is not the content of our closet or garage, but the content of our lives. Are we laying up our treasures on earth or in Heaven?
In this season of glittering enticements, let’s keep our priorities straight and remember that the most worthwhile gifts we can share with others are our love, time, and concern.
Abi F. May is a member of the Family International in England.
1 Luke 12:15
2 1 John 2:15,17 NIV
3 Matthew 6:19–20
4 Matthew 6:33
5 James, Oliver (2007). Affluenza. Vermillion.